Bach, Vivaldi, Marcello: Concerti Italiani FIVE STARS
The Baroque era? Just a bunch of dead guys' dead music. It was three centuries ago, for example, that Bach transcribed some Venetian violin concertos into works for solo harpsichord. (Big deal.) But what if you reversed the process? What if you turned Bach's harpsichord piece "after the Italian taste" into a violin concerto and restored the lost violin parts of some of Bach's transcriptions? Presto, you'd have some brand-new Baroque music, thematically arranged.
Concerto Italiano and its director, Rinaldo Alessandrini, have done just that -- and created marvels. Listen for the use of staccato and silence in the two slow movements of Benedetto Marcello's second Concerti a cinque; the contrast between the serene Adagio and the festive Presto in his brother Alessandro's exquisite oboe concerto; and the second of Vivaldi's amazingly innovative flute concertos, with its creepy "Night" and hypnotic "Sleep" sections.
In 2003, Gramophone declared that Concerto Italiano's version of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons was the finest ever recorded. The pristine Naive Classique recording of Concerti Italiani will similarly raise your spirits -- along with those of a few dead guys. -- Michael Bowen
Shangri-La FOUR STARS
Mark Knopfler wrote the songs for this CD after a motorcycle accident laid him up, and the kind of focus engendered by life on a sofa shines through. The result of his enforced convalescence is among his best records, marking a return to the basics for Knopfler and hearkening back to the very first Dire Straits record, especially its moody, mellow songs like "Wild West End." All his signature styles are all on display here -- the wit, the laid-back, almost effortless sound, and even that old finger-pickin' style.
Knopfler's best songs have always been little stories with great characters -- like the delivery guys in "Money for Nothing." This time, he sings from the shoes of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc in "Boom, Like That." In another, he celebrates the "left like Henry's hammer" that belonged to Sonny Liston. Surprisingly, for a guy with so gruff a voice, Knopfler can touch your soul. Songs like "Brothers in Arms" and "Romeo and Juliet" have that kind of power, and "Our Shangri-La" proves again that Knopfler remains a musical master. -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.